By MEGAN HIGGINS/ Montana State News
As she stares out the window of the kitchen Carmen Smith can’t help but see the two boys pointing and laughing in her direction. Hearing them say, “that’s the crazy bitch,” she decides to make a point.
After taking her clients’ food order she grabs a butcher knife and heads out the door towards the two boys. Walking quickly she holds up the knife and asks them, “Now which one of you called me a crazy bitch?”
The boys turn white not knowing what to say. After a moment of silence she starts to laugh and says, “Haha, just joking!” One of the boys looks at the other and says, “See, told ya.”
Over the years many have come to the conclusion that she is crazy, as the young boys had concluded. While she may be eccentric, it’s all a part of the game for her. According to Smith, the best thing about owning a bar is that, “I can be whoever I want to be. Whatever character I want to play that day I can.”
Smith has owned Norris Bar with her husband Steve for 14 years and loves it – well most of it.
Smith was born in Germany in 1963 and adopted when she was 6 weeks old. Her father was in the service and thus grew up moving between the states and Eastern Europe.
Her family moved to Montana in 1978 settling in Big Timber. Smith stayed in Montana until 1995, traveling around the state. In 1995 she moved to Florida, working as a waitress for three years, before returning to Norris where her mother and father lived.
She met Steve Smith upon moving back to Norris and knew that she would be settling down in Norris. Five years later the two were married and have been running the bar ever since.
“Norris is a tiny, peaceful place,” says Smith. She enjoys the good people and the slow pace of life that Norris has to offer. Having seen most of the country, from small towns to big cities, Smith has much to base her opinions off.
Smith says there is nothing better than watching the eagle that frequents their property while having her morning coffee. “It’s the simple things,” says Smith.
Most days of the week Smith can be found keeping the locals in check, and messing with the tourists in the bar.
Smith loves the stories she hears and the people who tell them. Most people have figured out the Norris system of success, in that as long as you follow Smith’s rules everything will be just fine. It’s when those lines are crossed that she’s going to start calling you an a-hole.
It was 10 years ago that Smith reached a breaking point. She no longer wanted to bartend, or be around the customers for that matter. It was at this point she decided to start cooking food for the bar, thus giving her some time away from the patrons.
Smith had been creating barbecue sauces and marinades for years, and found this as a great opportunity to share her products with others. It was almost 10 years ago that she started selling her sauces under the label Those Bitches.
Mark Shlitzer, recent inductee to the legal drinking world ventured to Norris Bar right after his 21st birthday and said he wasn’t sure if he would be going back anytime soon.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Shlitzer said. “I enjoyed the place but the lady working was a bit scary. I didn’t know what they had to drink, and that was my first mistake.”
And this is one moment that Smith is all to use to dealing with. People will always ask what’s on tap. For Smith, without thinking about it, “water,” is always the answer, with a look of, “Really? You just asked me that?” across her face.
She acknowledges that this probably plays into the reputation that she has gotten.
Between the water on tap, and tricking boys with knives Smith has found a way to smile at everything.
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at others,” is a motto to her life, one that is always apparent when you spend any time with Smith.
Everything becomes something that is worth a snort in the world of Smith, which can be a struggle for her at times. In 2000 her father passed away, causing the slow descent of her mother’s ability to function on her own. Nearly four years ago, Smith and her husband moved in with her mother to help.
Smith’s mother has been struggling with Alzheimer’s since the death of her husband and has now reached the point where she needs help with everything from dressing herself, to eating.
With the added stress of another to take care of Smith always finds the good things in life. “It’s all about the humor in life; if you’re not gonna snort why laugh at all?” says Smith.
It’s the humor and slow pace of life that lead Smith to her other favorite hobby. She has an eye for the unique and loves to create art with anything from barbed wire to natural wood. She spends her free time working with beads and wire to create jewelry, and knitting and sewing a variety of different things.
One of her favorite projects is turning boring, plain flowerpots into something that is worthy of being displayed. Smith says, “I just love creating things.”
Between the customers at the bar, and the community of Norris, Smith has no desire to leave anytime soon. For years to come Smith will still be snorting to herself, and breaking the balls of customers as they settle up to the bar.
Smith says she will continue to find the bright side of life and share that with anyone she meets, just as long as they follow the rules, and above all, don’t ask what’s on tap.
Edited by Haley Anderson.